CUT AND PASTE: A Brief History of Zine Publishing

CUT AND PASTE is a new column that celebrates proto-blog culture by delving into the world of self-published print media – colloquially referred to as zines – which cover a wide scope of the personal and political lives of its authors and their various cultural obsessions. The column will be a mix of zine reviews, profiles and interviews with zinesters, highlights of zine archives and libraries, and coverage of zine events in today’s still-thriving culture. For our first installment, Rebecca Kunin, who teaches a course she designed at Indiana University called  “Punk, Zines, and D.I.Y. Politics,” gives us a brief rundown of zine history.

Zines are handmade and self-published print media. With relatively limited amounts of copies in circulation – both a practical constraint and ideological decision – they critique for-profit mass production. Zines often draw from the personal perspectives. As such, they tend to cover niche topics and come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and formats.

While the term was first utilized in 1930s/40s sci-fi fandoms, zines were embraced by punks in the 1970s as a counterattack to elitism in mainstream music journalism and the music industry. When punk music exploded onto local scenes, it upended mainstream notions of popular music. The core methodology of this critique was a D.I.Y. ethos. D.I.Y. suggests that one creates something – a show, song, zine, etc. – using the resources at their disposal. It suggests that an authentic message is one that is unfiltered by gatekeepers, who are swayed by corporate interests and the need to market and sell to mass audiences. A “rough around the edges” aesthetic, as it follows, is gladly embraced as evidence of human ingenuity in the face of an increasingly corporate and elitist artistic marketplace. This aesthetic (or ideal) manifested in punk music, fashion, political organizing, and print media, i.e. zines.

Zines became an important form of insider communication in punk scenes. One could turn to a local fanzine for a show review, interview, scene report, and pretty much anything else related to punk or otherwise. Beyond local contexts, zines traveled via touring bands and snail mail, spreading information and drawing connections across regional, national, and international D.I.Y. networks.

Because punks directed their rage towards corporate elitism and promulgated an ethos of inclusivity, it is easy to romanticize their outreach. While punk critiques capitalism, sexism, homophobia, and racism, for instance, it also exists within a world that is capitalist, sexist, homophobic and racist. Far from an egalitarian utopia, queer and femme punks and punks of color have had to exist within what scholar and zinester Mimi Thi Nugyen describes as “whitestraightboy hegemony.” Zines, however, became important sites for such critiques within punk spaces. Because of their participatory nature, more punk subcultures formed along these lines of critique.

One of these subcultures was queercore, a critique of homophobia within punk and conservatism within mainstream gay and lesbian movements. In the 1980s, Toronto-based multi-media collaborators Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones published J.D.s and helped to pioneer a local queercore scene. While there are many more titles than can be listed here, some of the most circulated Toronto-based zines included Bimbox and SCAB (Society for the Complete Annihilation of Breeding), Double Bill (Caroline Azar, Jena Von Brucker, G.B. Jones, Johnny Noxzema, Rex Roy), and Jane Gets a Divorce (Jena Von Brucker). Queercore, however, was not only based out of Toronto. Participants collaborated across geographic distances to other cities. Out of Southern California, Vaginal Davis published The Fertile Latoyah Jackson in the early 1980s. Up the coast in San Francisco, Homocore (by Tom Jennings and Deke Nihilson) and Outpunk (by Matt Wobensmith) were circulating widely. Out of Portland, Team Dresch bandmember Donna Dresch published Chainsaw, a homocore and riot grrrl zine. Many of the above-mentioned zines (and more) can be read in digitized formats on the Queer Zine Archive Project’s website.  Although centered on zines, queercore was a multimedia punk subculture that created music, films, and social networks. Outpunk and Chainsaw, for instance, doubled as record labels. By fusing art and activism, queercore reclaimed punk’s queer roots and created networks for queer individuals.

In the early 1990s, riot grrrl grew from local scenes in Olympia, Washington and Washington D.C. into an international movement with local chapters across North America, Europe, and Asia.  This activist art scene developed from feminist punks who were tired of the white boy mentality that dominated punk spaces. Riot grrrls used zines to discuss their personal experiences with sexism. Many members of this scene also performed in punk bands and advocated for feminist values and safe spaces at their shows. Famously, Kathleen Hanna of punk band Bikini Kill would call all the girls to the front at the beginning of their set. While it would be impossible to list all of the riot grrrl zines that were produced, some of the germinal ones include Jigsaw (Tobi Vail), Bikini Kill (Tobi Vail, Kathleen Hanna), Girl Germs (Molly Neuman, Allison Wolfe), Riot Grrrl (Molly Neuman, Allison Wolfe, Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail), and Gunk (Ramdasha Bikceem). These, and thousand more zines, connected femme punks across local, national, and international D.I.Y networks.

While riot grrrl opened a lot of spaces for women in punk, it is not without its critiques. Riot grrrl was mostly (although not exclusively) white, and many of its participants were middle class.  Punks of color and non-white riot grrrls critiqued riot grrrl for failing to address structures of racism and their own privilege within those structures on more than a superficial level. This critique of the whitewashing of feminist punk echoed a critique of race and racism in punk across many local scenes. In the 1990s, Race Riot emerged within this discussion. Mimi Thi Nguyen and Helen Luu published Evolution of Race Riot/Race Riot 2 and How to Stage a Coup, respectively, which are compilation zines that brought together punks of color to discuss racism in punk spaces and larger societal institutions. Bianca Ortiz (Mamasita), Sabrina Margarita Alcantara-Tan (Bamboo Girl), Miriam Bastani (Maximum RocknRoll),  Osa Atoe (Shotgun Seamstress), and Anna Vo (Fix My Head) are some of the central zinesters who have contributed to this discussion. Many of these zines can be read in digital formats via the People of Color Zine Project, founded by Daniela Capistrano.

By the 2000s, early social media websites and blogging platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr, Myspace, Live Journal, Bebo, and early Facebook introduced a new way for young people to interact with each other in an unfiltered format across greater geographical distances and at higher and faster rates. E-zines and blogs took zines from print to digital format.

Amidst all this, zine culture in its print form has remained alive and well. Zines can be found in cities and towns across North America (and around the world) at record stores, bookstores, comic book stores, zinefests, community centers, libraries and elsewhere. A handful of stores, such as Quimby’s (NYC and Chicago) specialize in zines. Rather than a replacement for zine culture, the internet has become a tool for zinesters to access a wider audience.

Now, when I go to a zinefest, I see zines on a number of different topics. I see zines about everything ranging from music, film, animals, feminism, and racism, to food and more. It is hard to ignore that a significant proportion of zines that I’ve encountered lately relate to themes of health and wellness – a trend that I suspect might be influenced by the inaccessibility of healthcare in the US and the stigmatization of mental illness and trauma. Another widespread theme in contemporary zine publishing is prisoner rights. Ranging from political essays by scholars and activists outside of prison to poems, essays, and illustrations from people who are incarcerated, these zines critique the prison industrial complex from an intersectional lens, exploring racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia. Tenacious, for instance is a zine written by incarcerated women and compiled by activist Victoria Law.

A lot of people in zine culture that I’ve chatted with mention a first zine that drew them in completely. For me, it happened when I was a 23-year-old ethnomusicology graduate student. I was at Bluestockings, a radical feminist co-op in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and I saw a brightly colored, glossy zine that stood out and immediately drew me in. The front cover was embossed in sections with glitter tape and a metallic noise maker was attached to the binding. It was called They Make Noise by Lou Bank and it featured portraits and bios of underground queer musicians. I remember being stricken by the fact that the zine was not just words on the paper, but a carefully thought out piece of art that someone spent a lot of time and care to assemble.

I became quickly consumed by zines and before I knew it, I was collecting them for my own bedroom archive. I made my first zine a couple of months later – my roommate Emmie Pappa Eddy and I collaborated and collectively created a fanzine about Friday the 13th. After that initial step I began to make more zines and after a couple of years, I built up my nerves to table at Bloomington’s Zine Fest. In graduate school, I have begun to work with zines in classroom settings as a creative alternative to elitist (and stodgy) academic formats.  My goal with this column is an extension of this research: to introduce more people to zine culture. As zine culture is fundamentally participatory, I also humbly hope to prompt more people to grab a piece of paper and make a zine.

Cover of Friday the 13th Fanzine. Cover art by Emmie Pappa Eddy

Recommended Further Reading

Queercore: Nault, Curran. Queercore: Queer Punk Media Subculture. Routledge: New York, 2018.

Riot Grrrl: Marcus, Sara. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution. Harper Perennial: New York, 2010.

Race Riot: Duncombe, Stephen and Tremblay, Maxwell. (editors). White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. Verso: London, 2011.

Zines: Duncombe, Stephen. Notes From The Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. Microcosm: Bloomington, 2001.

PLAYING BLOOMINGTON: Jessie Grubb & Bethany Lumsdaine of Shut Up and Listen

Shut up and Listen is a serial zine based out of Bloomington, Indiana that focuses on the (mostly local) underground music scene. Jessie Grubb and Bethany Lumsdaine are the creative partners and best friends behind the zine and radio show under the same name. Grubb and Lumsdaine have been self publishing and distributing Shut up and Listen almost monthly since October, cobbling together an eclectic mix of reflections on the local scene, interviews with touring and local artists, music recommendations, and event information that have been thoughtfully curated and compellingly written. Each issue of Shut up and Listen features bright and colorful cover designs and artist illustrations that both stand out on their own and solidify a cohesive aesthetic across all six (and growing) issues. Last week, I got the chance to chat with Jessie Grubb and Bethany Lumsdaine. We talked music, the local scene, and the future of Shut up and Listen.  

While Shut up and Listen officially began its run in Fall 2016 as Grubb and Lumsdaine’s WIUX radio show, their creative partnership goes back much earlier. The two have been interviewing local musicians since they met in high school, working predominantly with WFHB, the local radio station that runs teen radio hours every Saturday evening from 6pm-10pm, and Rhino’s Youth Center, which operates a youth podcast afterschool program on Thursdays. Since high school, Grubb and Lumsdaine have been involved in multiple creative pursuits. Jessie taught herself design through her participation in yearbook and newspaper in high school and now performs in the local synth-punk band, Clue. Bethany, who made her first zine in high school, was a printmaking major in the Fine Arts program before switching over to Journalism. Because of their like-minded creative proclivities, a partnership naturally followed shortly after meeting each other. They crafted the first time they hung out, a tradition that they have maintained over the years. The two even admitted that it is sometimes difficult to hang out without reverting to discussing their various work-related projects.

Grubb and Lumsdaine started to regularly attend shows together when Lumsdaine began studying at Indiana University and Grubb was finishing up in high school. They attended their first house show together on July 4, 2014 at the Dream (then known as Cram). As Grubb and Lumsdaine reminisced, they revealed some interesting insights about the Bloomington house show scene. According to Lumsdaine, people really come out to house shows compared to venue shows here, but it can be really unwelcoming if you are not used to it or if you are going alone. It can be really intimidating.” There’s no doubt that walking into a stranger’s house is nerve-wracking, but she offers encouragement, too: “I started going to house shows in my freshman year and I just went alone – I went to every show that I could find out about.”

As Grubb noted, “There’s definitely a closeness because Bloomington’s pretty small and the music scene is even smaller.” Once one gets their bearings in the tight-knit scene, shows are easier to find out about and become more comfortable to attend. Unlike larger scenes, Bloomington house shows tend to advertise their addresses publicly. Shows are also advertised via public Facebook groups such as “The Bloomington House Show Network” and “Let’s Go! Bloomington Punk Shows!”

After getting past any initial awkwardness of navigating the punk scene, Lumsdaine and Grubb admitted that they prefer house shows over venues. “People here are excited to see the music,” Lumsdaine explained. “The biggest difference between the house show scene and a venue is that at a house show no one is talking during the band. It is rude if you are in the basement and talking during the show. That is a thing that I really appreciate – that’s what I go to shows for, the music. The fact that everyone else there is as excited and interested as I am is really nice.” House shows are also available to people of all ages, whereas most of the downtown venues are 21+.   

Lumsdaine and Grubb revealed that adapting their radio show into a zine was a natural move. The zine permanently documents their radio show work, which is only temporarily accessible via live listening. While zines had been on their radar for a while, the two didn’t feel as if they had enough of a focused topic to run with it until Shut Up and Listen came along. Both Grubb and Lumsdaine affirmed that Shut up and Listen gave them a path that allowed them to carve out a niche for themselves in the Bloomington music scene. “I feel like i have a lot more purpose at the shows and more of a reason to go talk to people,” Grubb admitted. “It is easier to talk to people because I do this zine.”

When I asked the duo to describe what Shut Up and Listen is all about in their own words, Grubb replied, “Shut Up and Listen is all about giving a voice to underrepresented musicians and artists.” Without missing a beat, Lumsdaine added, “creating a platform where they can be taken seriously.” According to them, these underrepresented groups include women, minority groups and gender nonconforming people. Underrepresented also refers to underground. Lumsdaine and Grubb make a point to feature rising artists who have typically gotten very little exposure and media coverage. Their goal is to find these artists and use the platform that Shut Up and Listen provides to elevate and support them.

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Bethany Lumsdaine (left) and Jessie Grubb (right)

Both have strong reasons for supporting local and underrepresented artists. Through their work, they are hoping to create a more inclusive and diverse local music scene. As Lumsdaine explains, “I think it’s important to see people like yourself on stage. It’s important to book shows that have a variety of people on them, not just one kind. I know I’ve been really inspired by seeing a woman do something that I only ever dreamed of because it seems a lot more possible. I remember the first time I saw a female-fronted hardcore band, and I was like, this is amazing, I could do that too… A ton of the women we interviewed, they started because they saw another woman in a band, and they wanted to be like that, or they realized that they could do it then. Representation shows people that it’s possible.”

Within a larger system that encourages women to tear each other down, Grubb and Lumsdaine have been working together to create a collaborative project that elevates them both. Together, the two of them research, plan, interview, attend shows, and write. They divvy up the writing and trade off on illustrations and cover art, but they make a point to avoid crediting each piece individually. Grubb explained, “There’s only two of us. It’s by one of us, it doesn’t really matter.” Lumsdaine agreed. “If somebody is like, ‘I love this article,’ it doesn’t matter. It’s a whole thing.” If my interview with Jessie Grubb and Bethany Lumsdaine has taught me one thing, it is that beautiful things can happen when your best friend is also your creative partner.  

After taking a short break to pursue other creative opportunities (writing pieces for Tom Tom Magazine, playing shows, and collaborating with local artist Amy O on her upcoming zine, Yoko Oh Yes, Lumsdaine and Grubb will be back with a summer issue of Shut Up and Listen this August.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

INTERVIEW: A Chat with Grrrl Fest Organizers

Here at AudioFemme, we’re all about making spaces for women in the music industry, whether that’s as music makers or behind the scenes – booking and promoting shows, running sound, shooting bands, and, of course, bringing you top-notch journalism reviews. So we got super excited when we found out about Grrrl Fest, a day-long celebration of women in the creative arts. Organized by an inspiring group of young feminists, it features performances from a dozen or so up-and-coming bands that feature female musicians, short films, spoken word performances, zine-writing workshops, button making, a book sale and a silent auction, and that’s to say nothing of getting your tarot cards read and covering yourself in “glitter tattoos.” Not only are we pumped for Grrrl Fest to take over Silent Barn on June 14th, we were also so impressed with the scope of the event that we just had to learn more from two of its organizers, Ebun Nazon-Power and Bridget Malloy.


AudioFemme: In your words, what is the mission of Grrrl Fest?

Ebun Nazon-Power: Grrrl Fest is about supporting and empowering females (girls and women and anyone who identifies as such) in whatever it is that they do. However, Grrrl Fest is mainly focused on the creative fields such as music, bands, dance, spoken word and art. I think our mission is to reveal to all those young women out there that it is totally okay to be creative and self-expressive in an environment where people (not just females) are being supportive and helpful. We wanted to show girls that there is no one way of being a feminist–there are tons of different kinds and ways. So being in a place where people are coming from all over the city and elsewhere and are all about equality and feminism, it can be a life changing experience and hopefully have a positive effect.

AF: Who makes up the core group of organizers? How do you work together to organize the event?

Ebun: The “core” group I guess would be myself and my other classmates: Christopher Gambino, Savannah Galvin, and Clare Burden, Esme Ahsley-White, Abbie Hornburg and of course my art teacher Bridget Malloy. However, we have plenty of volunteers from different schools who are working with us. The core group organizes at The Beacon School and all the other volunteers are organized through social media like Facebook.

AF: How long have you been doing this?

Ebun: This is the very first year that we are doing this. We honestly began this enormous project like two months ago!!

AF: What inspired you to put Grrrl Fest together?

Bridget Malloy: Some students and I were hanging out in the art room during a free period and Ebun put on her band T-Rextasy. It was such a cool sound. It reminded me of some of the 90’s girl bands. At the same time, I was looking at Savannah’s artwork on the wall. It was this really cool text piece. It reminded me of writing on a bathroom wall. So then somewhere along the way I said, “We should do a ‘Girl Fest!’” Next thing you know we are planning, making calls, getting sponsors and the rest is history. People got right on board too. It was really great how it all just formed so naturally. It really felt like it was the right time for something like this and that many people wanted to see it happen.

AF: You’ve got tons of performers scheduled. What did you look for in terms of artists who you wanted to book?

Ebun: In terms of artists, we automatically knew who was going to play – She Monster, Petal War, and T-Rextasy (in fact, they were kind of the main reason grrrl fest started) which are all teenage girl bands. And then a lot of the people volunteering had some other artists they knew of that could possibly play. We also held auditions at The Beacon School for anyone who wanted to perform whether it be spoken word, dance, or music. We of course wanted mostly female artists, but since Grrrl Fest is not about excluding anybody, we also had several males in mind that were really excited to get involved such as Granted, Yabadum, The Backup Sticks, and Shemp. The only requirement is that every band performing has to do a cover of a female musician/band. We are really excited about this!

Bridget: Petal War, an all-girl band with some of the members being Beacon students and Willie Mae members, had played a show at SXSW and it just seemed like the right time to support all of these amazing young women!

AF: Besides great music, what else will be happening at Grrrl Fest?

Ebun: We will have activities (weather permitting) out in the garden of Silent Barn earlier in the day, from noon to 6pm. There will be tables with hands-on activities: button making, zine making, glitter tattoos, tarot card readings and more. The activities will teach and allow people to really participate in the event. Our sponsors will be in attendance to connect with the crowd too and get them involved in their organizations. There’s a silent auction which will help us to raise money for art in schools. And there will be art for sale benefiting young entrepreneurs with a portion of their sales going to various organizations at Grrrl.

AF: How did you go about getting sponsors for the event? Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Bridget: The sponsors for the event really happened so easily. First I have to say The Beacon School has truly supported this from the start. In addition, the people over at Silent Barn were behind this idea from the beginning. Nat Roe has been a dream to work with. He has been with us every step of the way and has supported pretty much anything we sent his way. He was the one that suggested we take the event into the night and have Pottymouth and the rest of the bands play later on in the evening. Originally it was going to be a six-hour event but now it’s about a twelve-hour event! As for the rest, we literally got on the phone and made calls or emailed people we thought could add to the event. BUST Magazine and Tom Tom Magazine were some of the first to back us up. Then Bennington [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][College] came in with a generous donation. They really supported us from the minute this whole idea began. Libby Hux was a huge player at Bennington she literally got right on it and made calls and wrote to people to make that happen. As for Planned Parenthood, Lower East Side Girls Club, Bluestockings, Center for Arts Education, CHiPS, Willie Mae, Makers… we just reached out and asked if they would want to participate. They all said yes! We were thrilled! We even had some people contacting us once people got word of the event.

Ebun: Getting sponsors was not even on my mind when we first started this event actually. It was not until one of the magazines (Tom Tom) e-mailed me asking if they were sponsoring the event and I was like “Oh, duh!” I had some connections with some of the organizations such as WIllie Mae Rock Camp for Girls which is an organization that supports girls in doing music and Tom Tom which is a magazine dedicated to female percussionists.

AF: What aspect of Grrrl Fest excites you the most?

Ebun: I am excited about almost everything! I am excited to see how everything is going to be pulled together. A lot will be going on between these 11 hours and hopefully every bit will be exciting. All of the bands and performers are INCREDIBLE, the crafts should be really fun, and the t-shirts and tote bags (made by classmate and friend Clare Burden) are absolutely phenomenal. Hopefully it will continue to happen every year, and even on a larger scale![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]